Breakthrough biotechnology for monitoring of local environment

Thursday, 7 January, 2021
A new Pathfinder project called WatchPlant develops novel biotechnology systems for in-situ monitoring.

The WatchPlant project reacts on urgent need for driving our urban and rural areas into healthier environments for people and the biosphere. Decision makers need disruptive tools to take the pulse to the environment we inhabit, and sophisticated models to predict and monitor the impact of their decisions over these environments. European researchers, companies and academia teamed up to transcend the limits of existing environmental in-situ monitoring technologies and equip vegetation with a new family of sensors. The data captured by these sensors will feed innovative urban environmental models enabling decision makers to understand socio-ecological interactions, consequences of climate change, the impact of pollution over human health, and a wide array of parameters on environmental sustainability. This innovative technology is envision to be worn by plants in a wireless mode, be capable of sensing a large number of parameters distributed across a complex network, and be self-powered by a radically new source of clean energy: the sap from the plant itself.

WatchPlant aims at testing the utility of using the plant itself as a sensor in urban areas, and proof the suitability of the technological concept. The radically novel approach consists of developing a biohybrid system technology that allows plants to wear Artificial Intelligence (AI) components and technological interfaces, which results in creating of “smart biohybrid organisms”.

In the proposal, the WatchPlant team offers an inter-disciplinary research in the fields of plant physiology, microtechnology, fluid modelling, bioelectronics and sensor development, communication capabilities, artificial intelligence and environmental modelling, altogether oriented to the improvement of in-situ monitoring of under-sampled parameters to achieve the main goal of the project:

“To develop, deploy and perform an experimental validation of this new biohybrid system technology, addressing the in situ monitoring of environmental pathogens, pollution and other impacting factors, together with living plants primarily in urban scenario, in order to establish a relation to human health, especially in the pandemic context.”

WatchPlant succeed in the Environmental Intelligence call (FETPROACT-EIC-08-2020), in subtopic B: Radically novel approaches to resilient, reliable and environmentally responsible in-situ monitoring. The 48-month project starts in January 2021 and ends in December 2024. The research is performed thanks to cooperation of 7 entities from Spain (with Instituto tecnológico de la energía being the coordinating institution), Sweden, Germany, Poland and Croatia.

Background information

FET-Open and FET Proactive are now part of the Enhanced European Innovation Council (EIC) Pilot (specifically the Pathfinder), the new home for deep-tech research and innovation in Horizon 2020, the EU funding programme for research and innovation.

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